An Israeli election, the UAE and a controversy: Tracking press reports

In one week in March, from March 10-19, an unusual controversy unfolded between Israel and its new peace partner in the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates. It appeared to begin on March 11 when Netanyahu cancelled a trip to the United Arab Emirates, the fourth cancellation since September 2020. According to reports the Kingdom of Jordan had refused Netanyahu’s request to fly through the Kingdom.

Then another controversy developed around March 17 as it appeared Netanyahu wanted to go to the UAE at the last moment before the Israeli election. The trip was also called off, leading to accusations that the UAE was frustrated by being used as an election prop.

Here is a look at the developing press reports.

March 10

AP: Netanyahu to visit Abu Dhabi on first official trip.

 Israel’s Channel 12 TV said Netanyahu would spend two hours in the UAE, entirely at an Abu Dhabi airport. 

March 11

Jordan refuses Netanyahu access to airspace for UAE trip.

NOTE: Jordan had snubbed Netanyahu’s calls according to June 2020 reports.

Details about the cancelled trip. More details here. Rumors had persisted that Netanyahu might meet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince on the trip.

TOI: Rather than taking an Israeli jet, Netanyahu had arranged for an Emirati plane to shuttle him to the UAE — apparently due to security reasons.

Israel HaYom: “Netanyahu’s scheduled visit to the United Arab Emirates was held up on Thursday morning when Jordan announced it would not allow Netanyahu’s aircraft to cross its airspace en route to the United Arab Emirates…was a response to Israel’s decision to cancel a visit to the Temple Mount that had been scheduled for Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah on Wednesday over disagreements about security protocols…’high-ranking Israeli political officials and former Israeli security officials cooperated with Amman to torpedo Netanyahu’s visit to the UAE, after Prince Hussein’s visit to the Temple Mount was called off.'”

NOTE: Why would Israel cancel a high profile Jordanian visit the day before the Prime Minister knew he would need to use Jordan’s airspace? Why did Netanyahu need to land in Jordan on the way to the UAE? Rumors said that Netanyahu remained in Israel due to a medical procedure for his wife, and that Jordan was a preferred route to stay further from Houthi threats over Saudi Arabia, or because he would use a private plane from Amman, not an Israeli aircraft. Supporters of Netanyahu claimed that the US or Netanyahu’s political opponents conspired to stop the trip. The trip was only supposed to last a few hours because political leaders from Hungary and Czech Republic were due in Israel the same day. Defense Minister Benny Gantz reportedly met Jordan’s King in February. On March 2 “Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi on Tuesday at the Allenby Crossing.”

Bloomberg: Netanyahu says that UAE will invest $10 billion in Israel.

March 13

TOI: Jordan’s Foreign Minister confirms to CNN that Jordan held up the trip. “You renege on an agreement with Jordan, you disrupt a religious visit, you create conditions that made this religious visit on a holy occasion impossible and then you expect to come to Jordan and fly out of Jordan? Let’s be serious here,” Safadi said.

March 15

TOI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has intervened to prevent Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi from traveling to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to inaugurate Israel’s new missions in the Gulf country, Channel 12 reported Sunday. Sources in the Foreign Ministry said Netanyahu blocked the visit because “he didn’t want the foreign minister to travel there before he does.” “Due to personal and election considerations, Netanyahu is torpedoing an important diplomatic journey and delaying the opening of the Israeli missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” an unnamed official told the outlet.

March 17

Jpost’s Lahav Harkov: “An Emirati source said that the government is preparing for a meeting between Netanyahu and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the UAE’s capital on Wednesday or Thursday.”

Anwar Gargash: “From the UAE’s perspective, the purpose of the Abrahamic Accords is to provide a robust strategic foundation to foster peace and prosperity with the State of Israel and in the wider region. The UAE will not be a part in any internal electioneering in Israel, now or ever.”

Jpost’s Lahav Harkov: “The United Arab Emirates rejected attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to squeeze in his first trip to the Gulf state before Tuesday’s election…However, Emirati sources told The Jerusalem Post otherwise on Tuesday, and Netanyahu’s schedule had been cleared of political events on Thursday. The Prime Minister’s Office and the Likud campaign did not deny reports the prime minister was planning such a trip, though neither did they confirm it.”

Jpost’s Lahav Harkov: “Netanyahu has repeatedly referred to the investment in recent days, saying that it is an expression of bin Zayed’s confidence in the prime minister’s economic policies.In response to questions about the planned investment, Jaber told the UAE news site The National that the fund is “commercially driven and not politically associated.”

The National: “Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, said on Tuesday that the UAE’s announcement to study the investment prospects of $10 billion in Israel is “commercially driven and not politically associated”, and was in line with the UAE’s track record of looking for investment opportunities across the world.”

Barak Ravid: It is hard to overstate the anger towards Netanyahu in the UAE right now.

Ravid: “Netanyahu was so mad that Jordan wouldn’t clear his flight to UAE that he ordered Israeli airspace closed to all Jordanian flights. Aviation officials delayed, hoping he’d cool off. After two hours the order was reversed.”

Roi Kais: “A senior United Arab Emirates official said in closed-door talks tonight, referring to the saga of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Abu Dhabi just before the election: “We made an agreement with Israel as a state, we made an agreement with Israel as a people. We did not make an agreement with a specific person.”

N12 and Dana Weiss “Behind the scenes, elements in the union are talking about anger and frustration at Netanyahu’s use of his election campaign, in which he also personally involved MBZ’a name.”

March 18

AFP and TOI “The United Arab Emirates has reportedly suspended plans for a summit at which it was to host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, senior US officials and the heads of Arab states that have normalized relations with Israel, amid a diplomatic tiff over the Israeli premier’s attempted use of Abu Dhabi as a stop on the campaign trail. According to the Thursday report by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, the summit had been set to take place in Abu Dhabi in April but has now been shelved after Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed was angered by what he reportedly perceived as Netanyahu’s endeavor to use the Gulf nation for electioneering.”

AFP and TOI: “The UAE was reportedly reluctant to agree to host him last week, because of concerns that this would be perceived as election interference, and Netanyahu was said to have deployed Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who overcame their reservations.”

Walla and Barak Ravid: The head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, sat in Abu Dhabi for three consecutive days, with all his energy invested in receiving a green light from the Emirates’ national security adviser, Sheikh Tahanon Ben Zaid, for Netanyahu’s visit. All the details in my article.

Axios: “The last straw was an interview Netanyahu gave… in which he claimed MBZ “volunteered” to invest $10 billion in Israel… Netanyahu even claimed MBZ told him that he believes in his economic leadership”

March 18

UAE suspends summit. “The summit was scheduled to take place in April in Abu Dhabi, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken set to be in attendance. Officials from Sudan and Israel were also going to take part in a formal signing ceremony…”

AP: ‘Honeymoon is over’ between UAE and Israel. “The honeymoon ended quickly,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati political scientist, tweeted on Thursday.

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu deprived his political rival of the visit because he wanted to be the first Israeli leader to be photographed at a ceremony in the UAE.

FT: UAE reduces contact with Israel in election row.

Ynet’s Ben-Dror Yemini said unnamed Emirati officials told him they were stunned by the decision to cancel Ashkenazi’s visit.“Netanyahu’s action is a negative sign,” Yemini wrote. “It may get [the Emiratis] to look at Israel slightly less positively.”

Hadas Gold and CNN: The United Arab Emirates has publicly distanced itself from Benjamin Netanyahu over concerns the Israeli Prime Minister was using Abu Dhabi to boost his prospects in upcoming Israeli elections.The diplomatic spat comes just six months after a historic normalization agreement, known as the Abraham Accords, was signed between the two countries.”The UAE signed the Accords for the hope and opportunities they provide our people, not individual leaders,” an Emirati official told CNN.

Shimrit Meir at Ynet: “Opinion: The Emiratis’ reluctance to host the prime minister days before Israel goes to the polls was open acknowledgement that there is a new man in the White House, and even if Israel can’t see it, Trumpian stunts will not sit well with him….Abu Dhabi clarifies that they have tried to gently avoid this, time and time again, before sending the former foreign minister to tweet that ‘the Emirates will in no way be part of the Israeli election campaign.’ According to them, they have nothing personal against Netanyahu. After all, he is the historical partner and he may also be the future partner, but he had to understand that what was considered logical in the Trump era is already less appropriate for them in the Biden era.”

March 19

KAN and Guy Britzman “The Financial Times: Israeli officials say – in the UAE they have reduced official contacts with Israel in protest of Netanyahu’s attempts to involve them in the election campaign. According to them, the emirates “were upset that he leaked the visit plans, which were sold to them as a discreet discussion of Iranian aggression.”

FT It was reported that “the relationship between the Emirates and Israeli elements has been reduced to a minimum at least until all elections and the formation of the government are completed.”

INN: “Emirates distancing itself from Netanyahu.”

Walla’s Barak Ravid: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to anger MBZ and make him decide that until the election, and perhaps for a considerable period after that, he will not set foot in Abu Dhabi, according to three Israeli and Western sources. A summit with Sudan and Antony Blinken was also cancelled….The date of the summit was supposed to be in early April, but on Wednesday the emirates informed the White House that in light of Netanyahu’s conduct and his use of them in his election campaign, they are suspending the summit until further notice.”

TOI on CNN: An official from the United Arab Emirates appeared to criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid a diplomatic tiff over the premier’s attempted use of Abu Dhabi as a stop on the campaign trail, saying the normalization deal was not made for the benefit of individual leaders. “The UAE signed the Accords for the hope and opportunities they provide our people, not individual leaders,” the Emirati official told CNN on Thursday.

Controversy continues with debates on social media, see tweets here and here and here and here and here and here.

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